When it comes to buses in South America we consider ourselves pretty much down with the ins and outs of getting to your destination successfully . Over time we have become familiar with all of the features and facets of this mode of transport - on board toilets filling up, disembarkation of the entire bus in the middle of the night for passport/drug/tax evasion searches, overheating/freezing temperatures, movies blasting full volume in dubbed Spanish with Spanish subtitles and the promised on board meal comprising some stale bread and a juice. Our favourite though is having our photo taken as we board each bus apparently to assist in identification of bodies should there be an accident. Always a nice way to instil confidence as we step aboard.
We have heard the horror stories and can confirm that basically what you pay for is what you get - in terms of bus quality and service. We have done the range from the most expensive (a lovely way to travel) to the cheapest local buses which provide an experience at the other end of the scale!
We had many more hours and thousands of kilometres of bus travel ahead of us as we try to make our way to Argentina via Chile.
The first overnight journey from Cusco to Arequipa was fine. We stayed one night in Arequipa but as it was very cold and wet we were pleased to move on the following morning to Tacna located on the boarder of Peru and Chile. For this leg we decided to opt for the cheapest service that the locals use. Again this was fine and we were happy to pay less than half the price of a normal ticket.
Once in Tacna we were hastily squeezed into a Ford Falcon taxi (along with 6 others and our luggage) and proceeded to the boarder. We sailed through the exit of Peru fine, but the entry to Chile was not so smooth for the group due to my clumsiness. Unfortunately I was carrying some Lavender which I had brought up in Croatia many months ago and which had passed through Chile customs the first time! The dog picked this out and as a result I had to empty the contents of my bag in front of the Customs officials. Small glitch and after a smack on the hand we were soon on the road and arrived safely into Arica, Chile.
Feeling a bit jaded but wanting to continue on our journey we booked our ticket for San Pedro de Atacama where we intended to cross from there into Argentina. Our bus departed at 10 pm that night and like any journey was going fine until we pulled in for a stop at 7 am the following morning to find my back pack had been stolen from underneath my feet while I was sleeping. The pack contained a mixture of goodies; my credit card, camera, gortex jacket, gold watch, sunglasses, books and most frustratingly of all, both of our passports.
We narrowed it down to a 2 hour time gap when the pack went missing and the possible people who got off over that time but there is nothing we could do. Thankfully two lovely Brazilian passengers who could speak excellent Spanish and English heard our story and accompanied us to immigration and the police once we arrived in San Pedro. Both the bus company and the police were extremely rude and very unhelpful. We got the sense this happens very often and have heard that this is not unusual for the particular bus company we chose, TurBus.
We spent most of the day sorting out what needed to be done - talking to the bank and the insurance company in NZ and the NZ Embassy in Santiago. To sort out our new passports or emergency documentation we are required to visit the NZ Embassy in Santiago in person. So the following day we jumped on yet another bus and travelled 24 hours to Santiago. We returned to our hostel we had stayed at previously, the lovely Ventana Sur. Our home away from home makes the process a little more comforting.
Monday we visit the Embassy and hopefully find out if we can continue on our original travel plans to Argentina and Uruguay. Otherwise it may have to be a thorough exploration of the south of Chile.